On Schiehallion

Quite something to climb a Scottish mountain noted by Ptolemy a couple of thousand years ago. As if that wasn’t fame enough, Schiehallion was the mountain used by Maskelyne to calculate the mass of the Earth way back in 1774. His assistant Charles Hutton used his experiences on the mountain to devise the system of map contour lines which we all use today.

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On the Boulder Field (c) John Bainbridge 2017

As someone has pointed out elsewhere, Schiehallion is a mountain walk of two halves – first a relatively easy and gentle climbing track from Braes of Foss, the second negotiating a long stretch of quartzite boulder field. Contrary to popular belief – from the shape – Schiehallion was never a volcano. Its great bulk is sedimentary rock eroded during the Ice Age.

The weather we’ve had in Scotland has been much better than we’ve experienced in Cumbria. We were granted a warm and clear day to climb Schiehallion, though it was quite blowy on the top.

And one of the joys of walking at this time of the year is that the heather is out – walkers are fortunate to see heather at its best and to walk those purple slopes. A delight of the year.

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The Easy Path (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The path from Braes of Foss rises gently, offering wonderful views down into Gleann Mor – a place I’d like to explore one day. People settled this glen thousands of years ago – there are hut circles, cup-marked stones and the evidence of more recent shielings there and about. Jacobite fugitives hid here after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

As you walk in this country you tread in the footsteps of history.

Nearer the summit is the boulder field and very rocky it is too. I’m not as agile as I once was – the days when I could skip over the sloping clitter of Dartmoor tors (which this Scottish hill’s boulder field rather resembles) are long over. I envied the young people I saw on our ascent who can still skip.

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On the Summit (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Making our way rather more gingerly, we reached the summit. Despite the clear and dry weather it was very blowy as we edged along the summit rocks.

The real joy of this mountain, standing solitary and clear of any neighbours, is that you get all round views. Lochs Tummel and Rannoch (I’ll spare you my rousing chorus of The Road to the Isles) far below.

In the distance the heights of the Cairngorms; old mountain friends such as Ben Vrackie and Beinn a’Ghlo’ the great gash marking the entrance to Glen Tilt. Twisting your head around is the mighty Ben Lawers, then watery Rannoch Moor: the Buchaille Etive Mor and the crags of Glencoe; distant Ben Cruachan, the first Scottish mountain I ever climbed.

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Descent with Loch Tummel in view (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Just seeing them all makes you hungry for exploration.

The John Muir Trust, which owns the eastern side of Schiehallion, calculates that some 20,000 people climb this mountain every year. There were quite a few up on this lovely day, though because we started early we encountered most as we descended.

Schiehallion’s views are still so clear in my mind.


Ullswater Way From Patterdale

The most impressive stretches of the Ullswater Way are on the eastern banks, heading up from Patterdale. Even more so on the perfect Lakeland day we had a few weeks ago – perfect weather conditions, a lake as still as the surface of a mirror and wonderfully clear views across so many familiar mountains.

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JMW Turner’s View (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Alfred Wainwright describes this walk as having the finest views in the Lake District – well, that’s very much a point to debate, but it certainly seemed that he was right on the day we walked there.

A fine old track leads from Side Farm, wide enough for carts until it approaches Silver Point, and then a narrower path winding between Ullswater and the great mass of Place Fell. You pass the place where Turner painted – and the view is still there. William and Dorothy Wordsworth walked this way too. It can’t have changed much since.

The great view of the mountains above Patterdale and Glenridding, all standing out so clearly in the perfect visibility of a warm, balmy day. This has been a very wet summer in England, but these days of summer – rare as they are – have been a delight.

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Ullswater Way near Silver Point (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We watched the steamers heading up and down the lake, the launches and the canoes. Only the gentle ripples they were generating breaking the smooth water.

We skirted Silver Bay, an attractive and sandy cove, and followed a rocky path through woodlands, until we came to a rocky viewpoint – a nameless place, but a grand place to sit and drink tea.

This is where we left the Ullswater Way for now, retracing our footsteps to Silver Bay. Here we took the higher path below Grey Crag, passing a reedy tarn set in a rather pleasant little bealach.

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The track through the hills (c) John Bainbridge 2017

This high track offers more splendid views and must have served some purpose in the past, probably serving the slate workings along the hillside. Bits of industry that nature has taken back, though the evidence of men’s hard work can still be found.

The views from the path are simply stunning as you make a very gentle descent to the hamlet of Rooking.

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A View from the high path (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A very beautiful and peaceful section of the Ullswater Way – I think the most spectacular.


Ullswater Way – Aira Force to Patterdale

This was actually the first bit of the Ullswater Way we followed, on a cold February day, following the new path the National Trust has constructed from Aira Force to Glenridding and then on to Patterdale.

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Looking over Glencoyne and the head of the lake (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A very beautiful winter’s day of long views, crisp colours and bright blue sky. Worth diverting from the Way to see the mighty waterfall of Aira Force, especially if there’s been lots of rain.

Hardly a breeze as we walked along the edge of Glencoyne Park. It was here that Dorothy Wordsworth journalised her notes on seeing wild daffodils, inspiring the famous poem by her brother William. I always rather think that Dorothy had a lot more talent than her sibling.

Beyond Glencoyne Park, the path goes directly along the shores of Ullswater. This is the stretch of the Ullswater Way that is nearest to a road – but the views more than outweigh the traffic noise.

Glenridding was still recovering from the damage caused by Storm Desmond when we were there. A terrible blow to the brave little community.

Fans of 1990’s television will recognise the Inn on the Lake as the notorious Ullswater Hotel (indeed it used to be called that) of The Lakes television drama series, which caused some controversy at the time.

On then to Patterdale, which I’ll write more about on the next Ullswater Way blog, when I write about how the Ullswater Way circuits the top of the lake and continues its journey to Silver Bay.

My Trespasser’s Country Walking book for just 99 Pence/Cents

For just one week from tonight, my book The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into Forbidden Britain is available for just 99 pence/cents as a Kindle read for your smartphone (with a free Kindle App) or to read on a Kindle device or laptop.

It’s also out in paperback.dscf8425

Walk Magazine in its review said:

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law.

Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in.

Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out.

The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

ABOUT THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER: In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoors journalist and novelist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land.

This ground-breaking book examines how events through history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands.

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers.

The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

John Bainbridge has been a country walker for over fifty years. He was recently commended by the Ramblers Association for his many years of campaigning service to the rambling movement. He is the author of some thirty books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, mostly about the countryside and outdoor life.

John is also the author of the historical novels LoxleyWolfshead and Villain, chronicling the adventures of Robin Hood – one of Britain’s most notorious trespassers – as well as the thriller Balmoral Kill and the William Quest mystery novels.

Have a subversive rambling week  with The Compleat Trespasser…

Just click on the link below to order or start reading…

Ullswater Way – Pooley Bridge to Watermillock

As I said in my last blog, we are gradually walking the Ullswater Way – as the mood takes us and completely out of sequence.

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A Pastoral Scene (c) John Bainbridge 2017

In this stretch we walked from Pooley Bridge to Watermillock. Probably the most pastoral part of the lake as the route passes through quiet meadows and gentle slopes rather than dramatic fellside. Fields full of contented cows and excellent territory for the birdwatcher.

It saddens me to walk through Pooley Bridge. Sad not to see the lovely old bridge, washed away in Storm Desmond. I hope that the new bridge, when it is built, has the architectural merit of the old structure.

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A Quiet Hamlet (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Skirting Dunmallard Hill, we walked up to Waterfoot – once a stately home but now the heart of a huge holiday camp. Beyond is a steady ascent through rough and pleasant pastures climbing gradually up to a ridge with the old hill fort of Maiden Castle (not to be confused with its more famous namesake in Dorset).

Not that there’s a lot to see. The real joy of this long slope is as a viewpoint. Ullswater is in sight now, and so many of the great mountains around – the fells above Glenridding and on the far side of the lake around Martindale.

Then through the quiet hamlets of Wreay and Bennethead, places that seem unchanged by time.

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Orchids in the churchyard (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A walk across marshier fields (ignore the sign suggesting the lane as an alternative) gave us splendid views of Little Mell Fell and Priest’s Crag.

Then to Watermillock Church. Just a few weeks since we had last been there, but different again – the churchyard full of orchids and a variety of other wild flowers.

We returned the same way to Pooley Bridge, well worth doing if you want to enjoy the Ullswater Way in small sections, not least because of the different views you get.

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Priest’s Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The Ullswater Way is very well waymarked – its daffodil symbol accompanying the walker at every junction in the path.

 Next: Aira Force to Patterdale on the Ullswater Way.

Walking the Ullswater Way – Aira Force to Watermillock

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been walking stretches of the recently opened Ullswater Way, a twenty-mile circuit of  the second largest stretch of water in the Lake District.Ullswater Way 028.JPG

Now, the fitter walker might do the whole route in a day. Doing it over two would make a pleasant expedition for the weekend. But we’ve broken up the Ullswater Way into several walks, doing them in no particular order, often out of sequence, sometimes coming back the way we went out, or seeking parallel routes for our return.

The Ullswater Way gives you lots of opportunities to do your own thing.

It’s a grand and scenic walk and we’ve very much enjoyed our walks. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about the Way’s many delights.

You can find out more about the Ullswater Way and download a free leaflet showing the route by clicking on the Friends of the Ullswater Way website at http://www.ullswater.com/the-ullswater-way/

In the meantime, follow my blog and see how we walked the Ullswater Way.

We started almost in the middle, walking from Aira Force to Watermillock…

The Ullswater Way very pleasantly links up paths to provide a route around this beautiful Lake. We’ve decided to walk bits of it from time to time, not necessarily in any particular order.

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It was a beautiful day as we set out from Aira Force to walk to Watermillock church and back.

The first part of the walk is along the terrace path on the lakeside of Gowbarrow Fell – well worth walking for the superb views not only over Ullswater but so many mountains around. This was the approach we used when we first went to the summit of Gowbarrow, but even if you’re not going to the top it’s worth a ramble.

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Just as the path turns a corner is the Memorial Bench dating back to 1905, a splendid place for a rest, for it’s a terrific viewpoint.

I’ve never known just what the Memorial Bench commemorates. If you know please do leave a comment below.

Ullswater was a deep blue and the boats and steamers looked like toys from this height.

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The narrow path winds above some lovely tree-filled gullies as it makes its way to Swinburn’s Park – one of the nine medieval deer parks surrounding the lake. Sadly, in the twentieth century, much of it was planted with light-defying conifers. Happily these are being cleared, offering much better view than previous walkers might have seen.

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Beyond the trees, the path crosses open moorland of heather and gorse, offering dramatic views of the Priest’s Crag. Just below is Watermillock Church.

Although there was an earlier church at Watermillock dating to at least 1218, the original was demolished and the present building dates to 1881. But for a Victorian church it is rather fine, with some wonderful stained glass, near Pre-Raphaelite in design – among them a memorial to Mr Spring-Rice, who wrote the words to I Vow To Thee My Country.

We talked to the gentleman maintaining the churchyard, who’d worked on the farms in this area since 1950. He told us much about the church and the village. The church is made of local stone – set watershot – with sandstone trimmings from the Eden Valley.

A sad tale too, some of what we heard. Barely sixty years ago there were thirty-one small farmers and smallholders working the fields around Watermillock – now there is just one farmer.

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We walked back to Aira Force the way we had come – worth doing because of the views over Ullswater open up as you descend Gowbarrow.

The Ullswater Way is a pleasing addition to the walks in the Lake District.

Next time – Pooley Bridge to Watermillock

Return to Silver How

Thomas de Quincey, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Coleridge, Matthew Arnold – I think of them all as I walk around Grasmere.

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Silver How (c) John Bainbridge 2017

All of these literary stars would be very familiar with Silver How, that rather pleasing mountain which provides such a pleasant background to Grasmere village.

I’ve been up Silver How several times over the years. It’s a very pleasant easy fell-walk and I think the views from the top are splendid. The slopes are quite wonderful, with so many lovely juniper trees.

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Grasmere and Rydal Water from the top. (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We took the path to the rear of Wordsworth’s old home of Allan Bank. I think it’s the best way up, because of the great views you get over Helm Crag, Seat Sandal, Fairfield and Easedale.

Then, as you reach the summit, those other Lakeland views open up – over Grasmere itself, Rydal Water, Elterwater, Windermere – and just a glimpse of Coniston Water. Then the great fells around – the Langdales, Wetherlam and so many more.

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Grasmere Village from above (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The summit itself is not spectacular, but for the views. There is none of the exciting rock of a Helm Crag or a Haystacks. But the views, well…

But for me the most beautiful view of Silver How is when you look up at it from Grasmere village. There is something quite perfect about that vista.

We descended back along the wall leading to Grasmere, Wainwright’s other route of ascent. Since I last walked it this path has become rather overgrown with bracken, largely, I suspect, because walkers are going straight for the top via the scree gully.

The path we took will need clearing soon, for the bracken is encroaching.

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Strange metalwork (c) John Bainbridge 2017

One little oddity along the way, a ruined structure of some sort, plates and bars of metal and low walling. Does anyone know what it was? My best guess is it might be a remnant of the old Victorian rifle range, which gets a mention in one of my old Lakeland guides. Do comment if you know different.

It takes just a couple of hours to enjoy the splendours of Silver How. A lovely mountain in a grand location.